Thursday, October 13, 2005

More Organic Chemicals Found in Space

Scientists associated with NASA's Spitzer Telescope have discovered polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons:

"NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has shown complex organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in every nook and cranny of our galaxy. While this is important to astronomers, it has been of little interest to astrobiologists, scientists who search for life beyond Earth. Normal PAHs aren't really important to biology," Hudgins said. "However, our work shows the lion's share of the PAHs in space also carry nitrogen in their structures. That changes everything."

This is important because:

"Much of the chemistry of life, including DNA, requires organic molecules that contain nitrogen," said team member Louis Allamandola, an astrochemist at Ames. "Chlorophyll, the substance that enables photosynthesis in plants, is a good example of this class of compounds, called polycyclic aromatic nitrogen heterocycles, or PANHs. Ironically, PANHs are formed in abundance around dying stars. So even in death, the seeds of life are sewn," Allamandola said.

Looking back over the years it is totally amazing to me how many different types of organic chemicals have been found in outer space. Once upon a time it used to be thought that outer space was barren of organic chemicals and origins of life research focused on chemicals believed to be present on early earth. It seems the picture is changing...